If you plan to raise your own chickens, you’re going to need a chicken brooder. This is because newly hatched chicks are not able to control their body temperature within the first few weeks of their life and need to be kept warm.
What Is A Chicken Brooder?
A chicken brooder is a device or enclosure that allows you to raise your own chicks. This differs from an incubator which is primarily used to hatch the eggs. Therefore, once your eggs hatch, you’ll move the baby chicks from the incubator into the brooder, where they will live for a few weeks until they’re old enough to regulate their own body temperature.
A chicken brooder is essentially a box that is large enough to hold your baby chicks and which is heated to a constant temperature.
Why Should You Consider An Outdoor Chicken Brooder
While many people choose to brood their chicks indoors, an outdoor chicken brooder has many advantages that you might not have considered.
For example, it keeps the mess and the smell out of your home or garage. An outdoor brooder is also much easier to clean and provides a more natural setting for your young chicks.
What Are The Benefits Of Having An Outdoor Chicken Brooder
As already mentioned, there are numerous benefits to having your chicken brooder outdoors instead of in your home.
Less Dust And Noise In The House
Baby chicks can be quite messy little creatures, and as they scramble around in the brooder and practice flapping their wings, they can create a lot of dust. This is not ideal if you have family members with allergies, and it can be difficult to keep the dust at bay, even with daily cleaning.
Plus, if you’ve never raised chicks before, you might not be aware that they can cheep all hours of the day and night. While this can be quite endearing in the beginning, you and your family members will soon get tired of the constant noise.
The Chicks Can Forage From Day One
If you have a brooder with a wire mesh floor, you can place it out onto the grass, and your chicks can start to forage among the grass from when they’re only a day or two old. This is a very natural way to raise healthy chicks. You can even move the brooder to a new location every day or two to give the chicks plenty of variety.
Your Chicks Will Be Healthy And Disease Free
Allowing your young chicks to begin foraging from a young age and keeping them away from the main flock will also ensure that they are healthy and not prone to disease.
It’s also better for your chicks when they have access to fresh air and natural daylight rather than being subjected to artificial light for long periods of time.
And, because your chicks are able to start foraging early, this eliminates the pecking order that can sometimes become established with chicks that are in close confinement with each other and have nothing else to keep them occupied.
Outdoor Brooders Are Easier To Keep Clean
If you have a brooder without a solid floor, you can just move it around to ensure that the ground that the chicks are walking around on is always clean. On the other hand, an indoor brooder will require cleaning daily, and this can create an additional layer of dust in your home.
The chicks will also find it much easier to walk around on the grass rather than on the solid floor of an indoor brooder.
How Do You Set Up An Outdoor Chicken Brooder?
Setting up your own outdoor chicken brooder is not that difficult, as you can utilize other cages that you might have and then just make adjustments. Or, you can even purchase a ready-made outdoor chicken brooder if your DIY skills aren’t that good or you don’t have the time.
Here are some ideas of what you can use to make your chicken brooder:
- A rabbit hutch. These usually have a base made from wire which will allow your chicks to forage when you place it on the grass.
- Galvanized stock tank. While these will have a solid floor, they can still be utilized as a chicken brooder as long as you construct a roof with timber and wire.
- A disused dog kennel. Once again, this will have a solid floor, but you could add a little run to the front so that your chicks can venture out onto the grass during the day.
- A wooden crate. You can either turn the crate upside down and attach a wire mesh floor or have it the right way up and attach chicken wire to the top to keep the chicks secure. Instead of chicken wire or wire mesh, you can even use hardware cloth instead.
- A ready-made coop. You can also purchase a ready-made small coop that will usually have a small chicken run attached to it. This might cost you a little more but will be ready in no time after you add a few things to keep your chicks comfortable.
What You’ll Need To Add To The Enclosure
Once you have your basic enclosure, you’re going to add a few things to turn it into a chicken brooder. Here are just the basics:
- Heat Lamp. This is essential to keep your chicks nice and warm both during the day and the night. This lamp needs to be hung from a lamp hook high enough so that the chicks can’t jump onto it. Alternatively, you can use a heating plate that is height adjustable and less prone to starting fires. Another option is to use a heat mat that you’ve wrapped in an old towel.
- Suitable bedding. It’s recommended that you use something like newspaper or paper towels in the first few days, as this is easier for the chicks to walk on. After that, you can replace this with pine shavings or straw.
- Feeders and feed. You’ll need a feed container filled with the appropriate feed to keep your chicks satisfied. Depending on the number of chicks you want to raise, you might even need two or more feeders so that no one misses out.
- Waterer and fresh water. Your chicks will need fresh water on a daily basis, so add one or more water containers and refresh these daily.
Expert tip: Try to use a red-tinted bulb in your heat lamp instead of a white or clear bulb. This is less stressful for your chicks and means that they have better sleep cycles.
What temperature should an outdoor brooder be kept at?
If this is your first time raising your own chicks, you might not know the correct temperatures at which your brooder should be kept. Here is a general guide:
- For the first seven days, the temperature should be set at 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
- From day 7 to day 14 you can lower the temperature to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- From day 14 to day 21, lower the temperature again to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
- From day 21 to day 28 you can safely lower the temperature again to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- From day 28 to day 35, reduce the temperature further to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Finally, on day 35, you can lower the temperature to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Every time you drop the temperature, make sure that your chicks are comfortable and happy. Your chicks should let you know if the temperature is not quite right. For example, if they are constantly sitting around the edges of the brooder, the temperature might be too hot.
On the other hand, if the chicks are huddled together under the heat lamp, you might find that the temperature is too low.
Expert tip: If the nighttime temperature outside is very cold, it’s a good idea to cover the brooder partially with a blanket or even an old comforter in order to keep the heat in. However, remember that the chicks still need adequate ventilation, so don’t cover the brooder completely.
How To Care For Your Chicks In The Outdoor Brooder
Caring for the chicks once they’re in the outdoor brooder is not that difficult. All you have to remember is to keep an eye on the temperature and make sure that the chicks are always nice and warm.
The other thing you’ll need to do is provide them with a constant supply of fresh feed and water. It’s important that you change the water daily so that it is always fresh and clean. You can either use a container that sits on the floor of the brooder or, better still, use a hanging waterer, as this will stay clean for longer.
As baby chicks grow quite quickly, it’s important to feed them a nutritious and balanced diet that has plenty of protein and other goodies. You can purchase commercially prepared starter feed or chick crumbs. This is ideal because it has been specially formulated by experts to give your chicks all the nutrition that they need for healthy growth.
The only other thing you need to worry about is keeping the brooder nice and clean. You should change the bedding material at least once a week or more often if you have a lot of chicks.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many chicks can I keep in an outdoor brooder?
This will depend entirely on the size of your brooder. In general, young chicks need at least 2 square feet of space each. So, if you have a square brooder that measures 4 feet by 4 feet, this is equal to 16 square feet. This means that you can keep 8 chicks in this brooder comfortably.
Can I use an outdoor brooder year-round?
It is possible to use an outdoor brooder year-round in some climates. However, if you experience very hot summers or very cold winters, you might need to move your brooder indoors during extreme weather conditions. You also want to ensure that the brooder is protected from wind and rain in order to keep your chicks comfortable and happy.
How far away should the heat lamp be in the outdoor brooder?
As a general guide, the heat lamp should be hung around 18 to 20 inches above the chicks if the weather is cold. However, if the weather is relatively warm, you can raise the heat lamp so that it is around 24 to 27 inches above the chicks.
How do you keep a brooder from smelling?
The best way to keep your brooder smelling fresh is to use pine shavings. Lay this around three to four inches thick. Avoid using things like cedar shavings that have a strong odor.
How long should chicks be kept in a brooder?
At around 6 to 12 weeks of age, your chicks should be fully feathered and able to control their own body temperature. Once this happens, they can be moved out of the brooder and into the chicken coop.